Executive Stories

Executives Spotlight stories appeared on this website starting in 2001. Some of the executive's professional experience may have changed since they were published.

Executive Spotlight - January 27, 2009

Steve Johnson


former President/CEO, Champ Car World Series


There was a merger last year. And there were layoffs.Steve JohnsonPerhaps we've forgotten about it because this preceded the many mergers and layoffs we all see scattered across the front page headlines. Champ Car, or to many, Championship Auto Racing Teams, merged with the Indy Racing League. Tony George's IRL owns all of open wheel racing in the US . The battle is over. Champ Car surrendered; IRL won.

My husband and I had the opportunity to share our business experiences with students at Gettysburg College this past December. While there we toured the battlefield of what was America's bloodiest and greatest loss of life on a battlefield. We bought the movie, "Gettysburg" just to see the battle acted out.

If you remember, General James Longstreet, General Robert E. Lee's #2 in command, and one of the South's best generals, was in private disagreement with Lee regarding Lee's strategy to even fight that battle at Gettysburg. Yet Longstreet carried out the orders because he was Lee's lieutenant, and although the war carried on for a few more years, and the South and Longstreet won a few more battles, the win by the North at Gettysburg was a turning point. Longstreet, chagrined, lost many of his comrades in that battle. This was a battle for one's life, a much greater consequence than battling to keep one's job.

Steve Johnson hasn't been afraid to take on these Longstreet, long-odds, leadership roles. The challenge was as steep as the South's ability to win the war after the Battle of Gettysburg when Steve accepted the role to lead the beleaguered CART out of bankruptcy in 2005. Could he turn it around? It was the kind of battle a general like he relishes.

He assembled a fresh team of lieutenants, warriors, expanded the base of the business past the borders of America to places like China, Holland, Belgium, and Australia . He closed deals with major sponsors and pursued ones from far off countries. His league was the 2nd most popular motor sports group in the world. But the cost of the troops - the fielding of teams, top-quality crews, travel and testing budgets all of which has taken a toll on all of motorsports - continued to hamper this league. The owners found no joy in continuing to fund it. On behalf of his superiors, Champ Car had to surrender. By March of 2008, the league was bought by Tony George. As in every battle, there were casualties? similarly in a merger. Layoffs. Even Steve's own layoff.

There are many leaders our country continues to tap for these kinds of roles. Steve has been one of them. Prior to CART, for 5 years he headed the SCCA where he grew membership, changed a culture and even moved a corporate headquarters. With the NHRA, Mr. Johnson grounded in sales and marketing management with Black and Decker, helped build the NHRA into a more popular sports and entertainment property. His early career identified and honed his leadership skills at General Electric, Black & Decker, Master Lock and Honeywell.

Heartland Park Topeka, a 700 acre multi-use facility which hosts both the NHRA and the AMA plus a dirt oval for weekly stock car series, was thrilled he was available and quickly asked him to consult as Chairman after the merger.

There are few who raise their hands to go into combat. Fewer in sports business who volunteer for challenges many feel are insurmountable. During this unprecedented economic time, we need bold and inspirational yet prudent leaders willing to take the role unafraid of even his own life's casualty. General Longstreet survived the Civil War and went on to hold high diplomatic positions with the US Government after the war. Expect Steve Johnson, too, to lead another brigade and enjoy other successes after this; one battle in which he had to surrender.

"Cause you can't keep a good man down
Oh, no, you can't keep a good man down"

- Alabama

- Buffy Filippell


"Steve Johnson is truly a shining star in the sports business field. I marvel at his success in expanding the Champ Car series internationally, the SCCA from a club to a motorsports business and bringing recognized business partners to the NHRA. Heartland Park Topeka is truly fortunate to have Steve's caliber energize, organize and propel us to the next level."

Ray Irwin, owner Heartland Park Topeka


What I do...

Steve was responsible for running the profit and loss of Champ Car, valued over $100 million with 60 employees.

HOW I GOT HERE...

CHAMP Car World Series (CART) ; Indianapolis , IN; 2005 to 2008
President/CEO

Sports Car Club of America (SCCA); 2001 to 2005
President/CEO

National Hot Rod Association; 1997 to 2001
Vice President of Sales

Honeywell (formerly Allied Signal Corporation) ; 1996 to 1997
Vice President National Account Sales

Master Lock Company; 1990 to 1996
Vice President National Account Sales
Director Home Center Sales
Regional Sales Manager
National Account Manager

GE / Black & Decker Housewares ; 1984 to 1989
National Account Manager

TeamWork Innovators

Daryl Morey, General Manager, Houston Rockets

Daryl Morey brought some amazing talents to the sports industry. Upon graduating from Northwestern where he worked part-time while in school for Stats, Inc., before entering graduate school at MIT Daryl was hired as a Senior Knowledge Management Engineer and helped Mitre develop a computer program for NSA which could scan all the international videos and bring up clips of specific items - such as "Hussein" - and show just those clips across all international broadcasts. This technology was later developed for commercial use and marketed under the company, Virage. Mr. Morey wrote the code and algorithm. He could convert speech to text and frames and mark when a story started and ended on the video. Is it a surprise he has become the thought leader in advancing database analytics, algorithms and technology in the sports industry?

Learn more

Others Say

ÔMorey is the whiz-kid stats analyst who made news last month when he was hired from the Celtics, where he worked on the business side, to take over as (GM) Dawson's eventual replacement. With his background as a Bill James disciple, Morey's hiring was hailed as the NBA's first venture into "Moneyball."Õ

- Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated